Hitting the service bulls eye

We are constantly told that service standards are the embodiment of the hospitality industry. But what exactly do these standards entail, particularly within the serviced apartments market? HRM finds out.

Impeccable service standards, long deemed to be the epitome of the hospitality industry, are no longer viewed with stardust by hospitality operators.

The prospect of offering nothing but crème de la crème service for guests is no longer a dreamy vision for this sector.

Rather than viewing exceptional service standards as the barometer of a service apartment’s quality, these are now regarded as basic prerequisites for guests looking to source serviced apartment accommodation.

Firstly, what is a serviced apartment?

According to The Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report 2013/2014, the term serviced apartment “is traditionally used to describe an apartment alternative to hotel accommodation for long stay leisure or business travellers.”

In fact, there are three categories of accommodation which the term serviced apartment applies to (See boxout).
 
Tapping onto human capital

According to Charles McCrow, Worldwide CEO, The Apartment Service, “people will continue to rely on human interaction when it comes to specialist knowledge.”

In addition, McCrow says there is a definite structural change in how business is conducted, with innovation and talent being the new drivers.

The idea that human touchpoints form the fulcrum of service standards is in line with the thoughts of Tonya Khong, Area General Manager, Asia-Pacific, Frasers Hospitality.

Khong says Frasers has a culture that aims to build on what it calls its Responsiveness, Ownership, Commitment, Innovativeness, and Teamwork (ROCIT) values.

All team members are equipped with this ideology, and consistently work on these core values.

Being in the service industry, Khong says “it’s of the utmost importance to us.”

“The reason why our team members have (the ROCIT values) is because we believe that it needs to start amongst us internally,” says Khong.

“We always start by making our employees buy into it internally first before these same group of people go out and serve our group of customers.”

Frasers Hospitality, which turned 16 on March 31, has 92 properties in 49 cities worldwide.

Nevertheless, despite its wide array of properties throughout the globe, service standards are consistent throughout the guests’ stay, says Jastina Balen, director of Group Branding and Communications.

An example would be when guests check in, the same phrases are used throughout the experience, regardless of the location. What staff are empowered to offer guests is also the same, says Balen.

“If you stay at Frasers in Singapore versus the Frasers in Paris or London, you would come to expect a similar thing,” she says.

“There is a consistency not just in the product, but in our whole service mantra and values.”

Another serviced apartment operator that strongly ascribes to the theory of the human touch is Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, owned and managed by the Pan Pacific Hotels Group.

There are currently five Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, two in Singapore and China respectively and one in Thailand.

Richard Tan, Vice President, Serviced Suites, Pan Pacific Hotels Group, says that from a service excellence perspective the brand maintains a focus on people.

“Our associates are key to our success and we concentrate our efforts on keeping them engaged by providing the most relevant and timely training and development opportunities,” says Tan.

“If our associates are motivated and understand how to deliver our service excellence promise, we will be able to not only meet but exceed our residents’ expectations.”
 
More than just service

When a serviced apartment hospitality provider likes Frasers has a programme called the Frasers guest experience, you know that “service” is a key part of the corporate brand.

According to Balen, the Frasers guest experience is where guests are not numbers.

“Each and every one of them is unique, so how do we make sure that their experience is not only just as unique but just as memorable, happy and comfortable as the next person?”

Balen says the company cherry picked from over 3,000 employees to train the best of the best in the “Frasers way”.

In today’s ever-changing landscape, Frasers makes a commitment towards fusing the new with the old, but also maintains the traditional aspects of service.

“This is where the aunty would look after your goldfish, they know where your slippers are placed, and it’s all the little things that are sometimes not in a handbook,” says Balen.

“But as you grow bigger, it gets more and more difficult to find the aunty who will feed your goldfish, so we try many ways to capture the service mantra that we grew up with and I think we have found a way.”

For example, Frasers has a policy whereby a housekeeper is permanently based on a particular floor level. Balen says this personalised touch helps to enhance service standards further.

“For example, the housekeeper would know that this man’s cup has to be put in a particular way and these are the finest details that matter,” she says.

Pan Pacific Serviced Suites has a unique offering in its 24-hour Personal Assistant (PA) service, now a signature feature of all the group’s serviced suites, says Tan.

The dedicated team of PAs helps residents assimilate into their new surroundings and provides a tailored service to each guest, helping them connect to both business and social networks as they settle into their new home.

According to Tan, the team will get in touch with guests prior to their stay and help to customise their experience from the moment they arrive,

This can range from general concierge services to offering insights on nearby attractions for families, and to recommending international schools located nearby. The PAs can even help by purchasing groceries.

“Personalised, discreet and reliable service is what the Pan Pacific Serviced Suites brand has become trusted to provide and it is what keeps residents staying or coming back to us,” adds Tan.

Costs vs guest satisfaction

The Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report 2013/2014 found that ever-rising utility costs were one of the major tests in operators’ businesses during 2013/2014.

Nevertheless, Tan from Pan Pacific Serviced Suites says efforts to continually improve service standards and provide residents with the highest levels of service are viewed as investments, and not costs.

“As long as our efforts to implement a new standard or service add value and supports the overall guest experience at Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, we believe that the return on investment will follow,” he says.

Balen says that where other apartment providers are currently cutting costs, Frasers is actually increasing them.

She cites something as simple as in-room amenities.

Frasers is using a dermatological brand called Peter Thomas Roth (PTR) which is very clean and clinical, says Balen.

While the men like this brand, she says female guests are less enthusiastic.

Having garnered feedback, the Frasers team came up with something that would appeal to all its guests.

“While others would use this opportunity to get a cheaper brand, we went the other way and got a more expensive brand,” says Balen.

“But our guests who spend a long time showering themselves are going to be happy.”

According to McCrow, the Generation Y (those born after 1980) “happily uses and depends on technology to manage their arrangements.”

The issue of technology and WiFi in particular is something that resonates with Balen.

She says Frasers was the first property to have desktop computers in its rooms.

Now again, she says it is the first serviced apartment operation in the world to have free WiFi in every single property, wherever guests are.

“How can you charge for something that is as basic as breathing nowadays?” asks Balen.

“You don’t charge for something like that and these kinds of things are more important than just trying to do things like painting this particular room white when it’s not relevant.”
 

Three types of serviced apartments
According to The Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report 2013/2014, serviced apartments can be classified into three types of accommodation:
 
1 Extended stay hotels
Extended stay hotels are generally studios, one bedroom apartments, and (rarely) two bedroom apartments usually seen in urban areas. They vary in standard from budget to deluxe. They are all fully furnished and comprise the following:
  • En-suite bathrooms
  • Fitted kitchen or kitchenette
  • Lounge/dining area sometimes including a sofa bed or pull down bed
  • Working area, desk, office chair, internet access and direct telephone line
  • Reception desks – some manned 24 hours, others on limited hours
  • Daily or weekly cleaning and laundry service
There are usually no restaurants, bar or lounge areas.
 
2 Corporate housing
Corporate housing is usually residential apartments upgraded for accommodation of 30 days or more and comes with services such as:
  • Furnishings
  • Weekly cleaning
  • Utility charges
  • Local municipal taxes
  • Telephone, WiFi and TV channels
  • Guest services - telephone support for maintenance issues and the like
Corporate housing is also referred to as suite living and residence living – it can double up as company apartments for either regular visitors or for those on extended assignments.
 
3 Condo-hotels
Predominantly located in South America, a condo hotel, also known as a hotel-condo or a Condotel, is a building that serves as both a condominium and a hotel. Condo hotels are usually high-rise buildings developed and working as luxury hotels. These hotels have condominium units which enable someone to own a vacation house, that when unused, can be rented out and managed by the hotel chain like any normal hotel room.

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